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The chronicle of Chanel

After Coco Chanel and Karl Lagerfeld, it is Virginie Viard's turn to lead Chanel. "Virginie is the most important person, not just for me, but also for the studio, for everything", says Lagerfeld in a documentary. Part three in the chronicle of Chanel.
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When Karl Lagerfeld dies in mid-February of this year, the fashion world mourns unanimously. Kaiser Karl, as the good man is often called, is at the helm of no less than 36 years at one of the most important fashion houses in the world: Chanel . Special in a time when designers are put aside as soon as they are brought in. Think of a Raf Simons who was allowed to leave Calvin Klein again in no time. Or Olivier Lapidus who saw his letter of resignation fall on the mat after just eight months at Lanvin. One day you're in, the next day you're out . But not with Chanel. Because if there is one fashion house that has the word 'consistency' in mind, it's Chanel. In its more than 100-year history, this actually only has two real main designers: Coco (Gabrielle) Chanel and Karl Lagerfeld.

The restless period between the death of Mademoiselle Chanel in 1971 and the arrival of Lagerfeld in 1982, in which the duo Jean Cazaubon / Yvonne Dudel and Philippe Guibourgé were allowed to bridge for ten years, was not included. It is a unique situation that says something about how the house and the corporate culture work. After the death of Lagerfeld his successor is almost immediately announced: Virginie Viard (1962). A rather unknown name for the masses perhaps, because Viard is not a woman who puts herself in the foreground. However, she has been the apple of Karl's eye for decades. For no less than thirty years this woman has been faithful to his silk, always put in black silk. Started as a trainee at the end of the 1980s, Viard is steadily climbing the fashion adder as Lagerfeld's right hand. In the Netflix series 7 Days Out , which shows the run-up to Chanel's couture show, we get a glimpse of the modest French for the first time.

Image above: model Adesuwa Aighewi in a tweed look during the Métiers d'Art 2018/19 show.

 

Moreover, Lagerfeld expresses clearly the important role that it plays. "Virginie is the most important person, not just for me, but also for the studio, for everything," he says in the documentary. "She is my right hand and even if I don't see her we are constantly on the phone." These praising words about his partner in couture are not so strange to anyone who knows that Viard has indeed played an influential role for years and supports the elderly designer on a daily basis. Literally by the way too, as was seen after one of the runway shows last year, in which she appears arm in arm with the designer. With good old Viard as a brand-new chief designer, Chanel's third chapter has definitely started, but the company knows very well who is being told to write the story.

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CONSISTENCE IS 'KEY'

Continuity therefore seems to be the code word at the fashion house. Is that why Chanel has not taken a new shining name as its chief designer, but would rather choose someone who already knows the DNA through and through? It appears so. With consistency you counteract the issues of the day, you also promote sustainability - because timeless items - and you ensure a strong, recognizable design language. Making classics, the French fashion house is the master.

Think of a design like the 2.55 bag. The shoulder bag is introduced in 1955, when Coco is already in its seventies, and is one of the most popular designs to this day. Every season he turns up in a slightly different version, but the original design has hardly changed in 64 years. The same applies to the use of tweed. Coco, crazy about the tightly woven, coarse woolen fabric, is the first fashion designer to use the material for women's clothing. And so she carries out her deux piece, a women's suit consisting of a jacket and skirt, often in high-quality tweed quality. It is whispered that it is her lover, the Duke of Westminster, who makes her discover the love for tweed and she regularly wears his tweed jackets. In the early 1930s, she decided to produce her tweeds in France and set up La Société des Tissus Chanel, where experiments were conducted to develop innovative textile technologies.

Image above: muse of the Caroline house
de Maigret always knows how to give a casual twist to her outfits.

 

For Lagerfeld, the tweed jacket in particular is an important item in his collections for the luxury house. The finely woven jackets are still made by hand in the workshops. And the designer even goes one step further: he actually uses tweed in evening and wedding dresses, shoes and jewelry. Because he processes or sometimes even tears the material, he manages to give it a modern twist . Another recurring item is the little black dress . Although Coco was not the first to introduce the short black dress, she is the one who knows how to push it into an essential part of a women's wardrobe. If she takes the simple, short design out of the mourning corner in the 1920s, there is initially little enthusiasm for it. Black, often long dresses are until that time actually worn exclusively during a period of mourning. Coco, however, does that very quickly. She makes the little black dress a recurring part of her collections, something that Lagerfeld will eagerly continue in innovative designs.

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Left: Lagerfeld sends a lookalike of his black and white outfit onto the catwalk. Right: the 2.55 bag also appears in the l / z 2019 collection.

Master of the Zeitgeist

In addition, Chanel is one of the first fashion houses to attract muses. For Coco Chanel it was important that strong women, often with a raw edge, wore her clothes. She already started it at the very beginning of her career: from the thirties she has dressed such greats as Romy Schneider, Brigitte Bardot and Jackie Kennedy. For Lagerfeld, ambassadors are also a very important part of the brand's development. He is loyal to this, just like the muses themselves: here too we don't see any seasonal faces, but strong personalities who have been loyal to Chanel for years, from Catherine Deneuve and Caroline de Maigret to Margot Robbie and Lily-Rose Depp.

We can conclude that the German has always looked closely at the history of the fashion house. And that does not mean that no modernization or renewal has taken place, quite the contrary. If there is one brand that can catch the spirit of the times, it is Chanel. While the entire fashion world is still wearing high heels, Lagerfeld is already adding a load of sneakers to the collection. While Coco, during the time that women are still being hoisted in corsets, comes up with casual outfits. Lagerfeld knew better than anyone how he could honor the creative legacy of Coco without erasing his own ideas.

Image above: sketch from 1926, in which cococo introduces 'the little Black Dress'.
 

When he was asked to manage the French luxury house artistically in 1983, more than a decade after the death of the founder and name giver, the company was not in very good shape. The soul of Mademoiselle Chanel seems to have gone a bit; a big boost is more than welcome. And that is exactly what Lagerfeld will do in the coming years. He remains faithful to the design aesthetics of his predecessor, but he also gradually manages to add his own identity to the DNA of the brand. Would Virginie Viard proceed that way? She comes to lie in a more spread out bed than her predecessor, that's for sure. The company made its turnover public for the first time last year, and that is not bad at ten billion. In addition, she knows better than anyone about the hat and the brim. One thing is certain, Coco would be proud of her.

Image above: actress Penélope Cruz.

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